As you may know, there are two categorical facets to the game of golf. One, is known as “long game” and the other “short game.” The long game, one might surmise, is the full swing: a relatively large motion, trying to make as much progress toward your destination as possible.
The short game is comprised of the less-than-full swings. The emphasis is on very specific distances — chipping, pitching, sand shots and putting.
Putting, however, is really a game within the games. Not only does this stroke require the most dexterity, it also requires the most control of one’s emotions.
For those who are good “ball-strikers” (long game aficionados), please do not be offended. But the full swing is primarily the ability to repeat a motion. Machines can do this. In fact, golf club manufacturers have developed robots to test equipment. Robots are great ball-strikers. They never miss.
Short game, however, more specifically putting, is a different talent. Essentially, no two motions are the same. Each putt has a different speed, a different angle (line), and there is often a choice for the player on how much of one (line or speed) will influence the other. A putt with more speed will not require as much angle (or break), whereas putt hit gently will be more affected by the break.
The old line is “you drive for show, but you putt for dough (dollars),” and it sends the good ball-strikers to the funny farm. One player is hitting the fairways and greens, while the other player is getting the ball in the hole faster. After Ben Hogan (one of the best, if not the best, ball-strikers ever) shot 71 and Billy Casper (one of the best, if not the best , putters ever) shot 66 in the same round, Hogan was reported to have said to Casper, “If you couldn’t putt, you’d be selling hot dogs on the 10th tee.”
So how do you become a better putter? Glad you asked. Answer: First you should be nimble and … you have to putt under pressure … a lot. Your creator gave you a measure of the first part. The second part requires at least one opponent and as much time as we can afford.
The best way, in my opinion, is to make it fun. It seems that every golf club/course has a contingent of avid players who love to putt. The group tends to form shortly after business hours and will often continue until sunset. They don’t just putt. They putt competitively. It’s not a lot of money. But it’s enough to make it matter. And that is what you need.
Here are a few of the games that create a little competition and a lot of fun. First, is the traditional stroke play. You and an opponent or several opponents can putt along a course on the practice putting green. The course can be any length with nine holes being the standard. At the end, the player with the fewest strokes wins.
Or try match play. This is a hole-by-hole competition, just like the golf course, and makes it easier to add bets, if necessary. For example, a player who is behind in the match can “press” the bet and make a new bet for a total of two running bets.
Sinks and sakes — a sink (hole-in-one) will earn a player a point (insert your own unit here), while a snake (three or more putts on one hole) will cost you a point (or more).
A personal favorite is “21” in which a player earns points by hitting the putt closest to the hole and/or making the putt versus their opponent(s). One point is given for closest to the hole (with a putt that hits the lip of the cup being the best) and three points are given for a sink (made putt). The goal is to get 21 points without going over (or the player goes back to 11).
This is a great, fun way to lower your scores, especially if you’re not a good ball-striker. More than that, it’s a good way to drive the better ball-strikers crazy. Like a good friend once told me, “I may hit the ball like @#!%, but I’ll chip and putt you to death!” You gotta love it.
John Renslow is general manager and director of golf at Alta Sierra Country Club. Please contact John with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.